MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The Sierra Club in Kansas has accused state health officials and Kansas State University of unplugging an ozone pollution monitoring site near Manhattan to prevent data collection that might support federal limits on Flint Hill grassland burns.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment denied the accusation, saying the device 10 miles from Manhattan was unplugged because the equipment was more suitable for evaluating pollution near population centers. University officials did not respond to a request for comment, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
The air-quality equipment on the Konza Prairie was taken offline April 5, 2013, more than a decade after it began collecting ozone information on the Konza Prairie, which is managed by Kansas State.
Craig Volland, chairman of the Sierra Club’s air-quality section in Kansas, said Monday that his group’s investigation of the shutdown led to state and federal government documents suggesting that the Nature Conservancy, which owns land where the monitor is located, was pressured to secure Environmental Protection Agency authorization to disable the station.
“Nobody distinguished themselves during this episode,” Volland said. “Despite considerable data demonstrating that people in the Manhattan area are at times exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution during the April-September ozone season, few participants in the controversy examined this part of the issue.”
The public was never notified of the shutdown. The closest of Kansas’ nine other ozone monitors is in Topeka.
Ranchers burn grass on the 82,000-square-mile Flint Hills every April to promote growth of grass for grazing cattle. The resulting smoke can push ozone levels above national standards in downwind areas of Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, and sometimes drifts into Nebraska and Missouri. The Konza Prairie unit detected high ozone levels during burns in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
KDHE spokeswoman Sara Belfry said the Konza Prairie equipment was intended for evaluating pollution in population centers. Manhattan is the state’s eighth-largest city by population with more than 50,000 residents.
“Our contention is if you’re going to put ozone monitors anyplace it should be around people,” said Belfry, who did not explain why Manhattan was not considered a population center.
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